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Apple data and privacy: How to find out what personal data they're keeping

Apple keeps data on everyone who uses their iPhones, iPads, Macs and more. Here's how to find out what personal information they know about you using your Apple ID.

phone-security

Find out what information Apple has stored about you.

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Compared to other big tech companies, Apple angles itself as one of the more privacy-focused. The company helps protect your data from undesired uses like targeted advertising. Apple also give you the option to protect your email from spammers and secure your Digital Legacy in its latest operating system, iOS 15. Earlier this year, Apple clashed with social media behemoth Facebook over the company's new approach to data, requiring its users to grant permission to apps that want to track information. 

However, Apple is still keeping some data on anyone who uses its products. And if you want to know exactly what that information is, Apple offers a way to find out. 

It's not a speedy process (expect to wait up to a week for the results), but here's how to find out exactly what data about you Apple has stored.

How to request your personal data from Apple

Start by going to the account page for your Apple ID, and signing in.

Next, select the Data and Privacy option.

From there, choose Manage My Data and Privacy.

You'll be asked to choose which apps and services you want data from (check out the full list of options below). iCloud Drive files and documents, iCloud Mail and iCloud Photos will be broken, with the warning that these are larger files that might take longer to download.

Once you've made your selections, you'll be asked to select a maximum file size (1GB to 25GB). Apple will chunk your data into pieces no larger than your selection. 

Once you complete this process, Apple will begin working on your request. It can take up to seven days, according to the company, for your request to be completed. When your data is ready, Apple will send an email to your Apple ID with instructions for downloading and viewing your data.

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You can request data from tons of different Apple iPhone apps.

Patrick Holland/CNET

What apps can you request data from?

Once you're signed into the Data & Privacy menu, you can choose what data you want to see. You can choose any number of the following:

  • Apple Media Services information
  • Apple ID account and device information
  • Apple Online and Retail Stores activity
  • Wallet Activity
  • AppleCare support history, repair requests, and more
  • Game Center activity
  • iCloud Bookmarks and reading list
  • iCloud Calendars and Reminders
  • iCloud Contacts
  • iCloud Notes
  • Maps
  • Marketing communications, downloads, and other activity
  • Other data (such as known Wi-Fi networks, and location data for Wallet, Maps and so on)

You'll also see three more options below the others, although Apple warns that data for these apps may take longer to download due to the file sizes:

  • iCloud Drive files and documents
  • iCloud Mail
  • iCloud Photos
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What data do you actually get from Apple?

Apple will email you when your data is ready. The email will link you to your Data and Privacy page, where you can see the results after logging in with your Apple ID. You'll find a Download your data option on the right side of the page, which will bring you to a results page. 

Each of the apps and services you requested data from will be broken out separately for you to download. The data will download as .zip files, broken up into a variety of folders and sub-folders that contain .csv, .xml and more .zip files. It's a lot to wade through, and if you're trying to determine whether Apple has a specific piece of information about you, be prepared to spend time searching through many files. 

The actual information in that downloaded data is dense and not easy to digest. You can find your app download and update history, iTunes gift card redemptions, iCloud usage and more. Most of the files provide a key at the top to help you decipher the information, but the process is a bit like decoding text using a cipher. 

Overall, requesting your data is a simple process that only takes a couple of minutes. It's the task of wading through the folders and files that will take up most of your time. 

For more, check out 7 things data privacy experts wish you knew about app security, and the best VPN services of 2021.

CNET's Joseph Kaminski and Jason Cipriani contributed to this report.